I gave you my old ugly heart. You returned it restored and new.

“Lord, it’s a mess.  You can’t possibly want it.”

I am standing in a crowded auditorium.  A prevailing churches conference.  A room full of ministry leaders.  Movers and shakers for the kingdom.

Do you ever just feel like you don’t quite belong?

Chris Tomlin is leading worship.  I mean, how cool is that?

The last two days, we have been poured into by names like Bill Hybels and David Ortberg.  I’m singing and connecting with God in an experience that is a bit out of my ordinary world.  I am compelled to lift my hands in worship.  And then, it happens.

I can feel the tangible touch of God on my hands.  He is silently telling me, “Return to me.”

You see, God knows that my outsides look pretty good, but my insides are another story all together.  I haven’t let him in yet.  I have been volunteering in kids ministry and learning things about his word that I have never heard while washing down tables and leading kids to their assigned classrooms.  But I haven’t let his word resonate yet.  I know he means it for them.  I just can’t believe it for me.

I want kingdom opportunities and when I see another succeeding, I don’t see that they are succeeding for God.  I just see that they are farther ahead in the race and I am bitten by a little green bug of jealousy. I long to be the center of attention.  There is an emptiness inside of me that demands it.  I just want my chance to prove that I, too, am worthwhile.

But in this moment, God is not asking me to prove anything.

He is just asking me to return to him.

So I did.

In those following weeks, I recommitted my life to God.  In my mind, I had always been a believer.  I was baptized as a baby.  I knew he was there.  But, I made the choice to be water baptized as an adult, not because I believe it will take me into the gates of heaven, but instead, to show outwardly what was happening to me inwardly. God was washing away the old and ugly to reveal something new & beautiful.

I immersed myself in his word daily.

I learned to pray in alignment with God’s will.  Not about my wish and want list, but about his purpose and balance for who he created me to be.

I connected to others through small group bible study.

One day, I was sitting in church observing a woman I greatly admired.  Her ministry was in the spotlight.  A strange, unfamiliar feeling came over me.  It was joy!  I was genuinely happy for the success she was bringing to the kingdom as a result of her work and effort.

I’ll admit that I was surprised by this new emotion.

I basked in it for a moment.  It was like trying on a pair of jeans that fit just right.  No way I was leaving it behind.  This is what a clean heart feels like.

To be totally honest with you, I’m still under construction.  This transformation of my heart will never be perfect this side of heaven.  I will always need to be wary of traps like comparison and inadequacy. But now I know how to fight back. I know how to keep my feet from slipping into bondage and brokenness.

Immerse myself, daily, in God’s word.

Pray often.

Stay connected to other believers for encouragement and motivation.

Do the work he has given me.  Own my share of the kingdom plan.

Through it all, lean into him and trust that he is hard at work in my heart and my life.

Know that each day is filled with new mercy.  I am, after all, human.

 

“Create in me a clean heart, O God.  Renew a right spirit within me.”

 

Fighting my way to the finish line, even when it’s hard.

“People really do this for fun?”, I think to myself as I contentrate on air intake.

Breathe, 2, 3, 4

Exhale, 2, 3, 4

It’s day three of couch to 5k.  The worst day yet.  My body and my lungs are not aligning. I think it’s the piece of gum I decided to chew.  I long to sprint like a gazelle, but today, I’m resembling Jumbo the elephant.

Thump, Thump, Thump.

Is it time to walk yet?

And while we’re here, let’s talk about sports bra’s.  Are these things manufactured on the darkside by minions of the devil?

I remind myself that this is not forever, just today.  I remind myself that I have 35 years of poor habits to correct. Achieving this goal will be a process.  I envision crossing the finish line at the 5k I have signed up for in July.  I envision leading my youngest daughter’s girls on the run group next year.  I envision the size 10 waist  I will have when I reach my final weight loss goal. I envision participating alongside of my husband in the physically challenging courses he likes to run.

I envision ditching the steroid prescription I have been given to manage my asthma.

But i’m aggravated. How did I let myself get to this point?

I’m embarrassed about how hard this is to figure out when experienced runners make it look so easy. If I can barely make it through a minute, how on earth am I going to make it through 30 minutes in just a few short weeks?  Plus, I am sore in places that I don’t even want to talk about.  When will I see progress?

It’s the hard that makes me want to quit.

It’s the impossible that encourages me to stop before I start.

It’s discomfort that leads me to hide in my comfort zone.

 I must decide now that I can run after the things I want from life, or I can let them get away. Only I can decide.

A plan must be formed the moment I decide to chase a goal. My plan is my course of action to reach the goal.  My plan is my road map.  It keeps me on track. My plan reflects benchmarks as well as progress toward the finish line.

I must then set my eyes on the goal as opposed to the things I am leaving behind. When I start a new goal, I write down the reason why.  My reason why is the driving force to get me moving when I would rather sleep a little longer or park my happy hiney on the couch (sans sports bra) with a good read. My reason why redirects my attention from what I am missing to what I will be gaining.

Then I will be ready to push myself past my current limits.  In this case, I enlisted my husband as a running partner. Part for expertiece and part for accountability.  He molds my perceived weakness into perspective.  He runs along side me with patience.  He coaches when necessary.  The gum was his idea.  Hmm???

It has taken me a long time to realize that a life worth living is not driven by comfort.  It is driven by the pursuit of growth.  Every single step I take in pursuit of my goal adds a building block of character that honors the purpose God has created me for.

I firmly believe that you fight for the things that mean most to you.  My health is worth fighting for.  Time spent with my husband and kids is worth fighting for.  My dreams are worth fighting for.  I have decided running is worth my effort even when it’s a fight to reach the finish line.

 

 

 

Markin’ Time

Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; My heart within me is distressed. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works; I muse on the work of Your hands. I spread out my hands to You; My soul [longs] for You like a thirsty land. Selah “  Psalm 143: 4-6 (NKJV)

I was talking to a man who is near and dear to my heart the other day.  A career Veteran who has made to secret about how badly “civilian” life sucks.  We were talking about Christianity and the things that motivate us.  And then came the tone.  The same one David uses when he is getting ready to drive home a point. (I think they teach it in basic training).  He said, “Here’s what I have to say to that.  The thing that motivates me is helping soldiers succeed.  Now that I’m retired, I’m just here, Markin time.”  Whoa.  It took me back for a second and that is certainly not where the conversation ended, but his phrase, “Markin Time”, has hit me this week.

I am a checklist lady.  I have my list of things to accomplish filled out and checked twice every morning. Okay, more than twice, but it sounded good.  I follow my list to the “T” and become very discouraged if I don’t get something on it accomplished.  I don’t handle curve balls well.  I like for my life to have momentum.  Particularly if that momentum is carrying me to the weekend.

My feeling is that God has placed this phrase on my heart because, even though I don’t acknowledge it, “markin time” is exactly how I have chosen into living my life.  “If I can just get these things done, I can___.”  “I’m ready for today to be over.”  Etc, etc.  And the question that hit me this morning is,”For What?”  What is so important after today?  The only answer I have is that I will have another day, week or month just like today-only tomorrow. Right? What am I really working for?

God doesn’t create his people to live a life of obscurity. We are not here to “Mark Time”.  Daniel 11 says that the people who know God shall be strong and carry out great exploits!  Great exploits!  That’s what I’m talking about.  I’m headed back to the throne room today to rediscover the dreams God has laid upon my heart.  The dreams I surrendered a long time ago.  The ones I knew I would never accomplish on my own strength.  I’m making the choice to live my life differently.  To make my life count in some way each and every day. I firmly believe that I can have everyday adventures in the life God has given me.  But, will I give up my own agenda in order to make it happen?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured on the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:1-2

 

Focus!

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?  If the answer has been “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
Steven Jobs

Our family has been working to take advantage of the beautiful weather we have had over the last few weeks.  Part of this involves following Madi all over the neighborhood as she rides her bike.  This serves a two fold purpose.  She burns some energy and I get a little exercise while enjoying the beauty of fall.  However, her focus is limited at best.  Madi rides her bike while enjoying the scenary as well.  This means she spends a lot of time being bailed out of bushes.  She always begins well.  She has her eyes focused to the end of the sidewalk and she heads for her goal, only to be sidetracked.  It could be a bird, pretty flower, or a child her age.  She then continues to ride her bike while she turns around to tell me about it.  She inevitably ends up riding off of the sidewalk and running into something.   We have to stop, get her back on the sidewalk and headed in the right direction once more.  It can be a maddening process that sometimes reminds me of my life.

If I am not intentional, I tend to be a person that “Life” happens to.  In the book, “Seven Habit’s of Highly Effective People”, Steven Covey addresses this issue.  In the first few chapters he talks about identifying your circle of influence, meaning the people you have direct contact with on a regular basis.  This can mean your family, friends and coworkers.  He then encourages you to line up all of your responsibilities.  As humans, we tend to spend time doing things to stay “busy” as opposed to doing the things that will keep us moving  foward.  He then encourages us to set a mission statement, or a goal, for our lives and then identify the steps we need to take to make those goals happen.  Almost like a business plan for life.    As Dave Ramsey likes to say, “Children do what feels good, but ADULTS devise a plan and stick to it.”

This all sounds good and wonderful, right?  So, I went through my series of questions.  I identified the character traits that I wanted people to talk about at my funeral.  Morbid, I know, but it alls comes to beginning with the end in mind.  I put it all on paper and identified my mission statement.  At the end of my life, I want people to remember be as a lover and encourager of people.  I am someone who believes that you can achieve anything you put your mind too, and I want to empower the people around me (especially my husband and kids) to believe the same.  So why am I still in a funk?  Why am I still having trouble bringing my end goals into focus?  Why is it  that at the age of 31, I STILL don’t know what I want to be when I grow up?   To be blunt, I feel like I’ve been stuck in a bush!

God has been working on me in the area of mindset over the course of the last few months.  He has been challenging me to see “things” and “people” as he sees them.  To focus in on “Who” He really is as opposed to “Who” I think he is.  Yesterday, as I was reading through the book of 1 John, I was especially challenged about how Children of God are identified.  1 John 4: 15-18 says, “All who confess that Jesus is the son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.  We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.  God IS love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.  So we will not be afraid on the day of judgement, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.  Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.”  The bible goes on to say that if I say I love God, but hate a Christian brother or sister then I am a liar.

Yesterday, God pulled me out of the bushes and put me back on to the sidewalk.  He renewed my focus and said, “Let’s go.”  You see, I have been a terrible lover of people.  I expect so much from the people in my life, that I don’t allow them to be their authentic self in my presence.  When people are flawed or different from me (thought, words, deeds), I tend not to let them get too close.  Isn’t it ironic that we are all flawed, including myself.  The beauty of the cross is that Christ came to us while we were still sinners.  He didn’t wait until we had it all together (as HE thought we should) before he accepted us and gifted us with his grace.  As 1 John 4 says,  we can face God with confidence because we live like Jesus here in the this world.    My new focus is this.  To love the people in my life, my circle of influence, right where they are at.  To build them up and encourage them in their goals.  To set healthy boundaries and to give them the permission to do the same with me.  To focus on the character of Christ and mimic his traits until they are second nature.  To depend on the power of the Holy Spirit to do an amazing work of transformation, not only in my life, but the lives of those who surround me.

This new focus will not be an easy one.  I am in day three and have already spent a tremendous amount of time in prayer.  But, I know that in the end, love will be the only thing that matters.    I leave you with this last thought from John, “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our accomplishments and possessions.  These are not from the Father, they are from this world.” (1 John 2:16)  I am choosing to no longer focus on the best the world has to offer.  I am ready to be sold out on the best God has to offer.  I can’t wait to embark on the journey he is challenging me too.

Will the Real Slim Shady PUH-LEEZE stand up?

I am a closet rap fan.  Okay, so I’m not in the closet anymore.  There is something about Bass that sets things right in my world.  It’s quite possible that this love stems from being rocked to sleep by it in student housing as a baby.  When the song in my title, produced by Eminem, debuted, I recall an interview he did with one of the major morning shows.  The talking heads asked him,” What is the meaning of your song?”  To this he replied that we all have two egos that live within us.  We have one side that we want the world to see.  The good, loving, wonderful side.  But we also have a “Slim Shady” that lives within us.  This is the ego that causes us to flip someone off in a fit of road rage. (His words, not mine!)  I remember his words resonating with me.  I can completely relate.  NO!  I have not flipped anyone off in traffic, but I do have a two year old that lives inside of me when things don’t go exactly my way.  Turns out, I’m not the only one.  Take note from Paul in Romans 7: 18-20:

“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t.  I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.  But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one who is doing wrong; it is the sin living in me that does it.”

As “good” Christians (this IS an oxymoron), we tend to believe that we are born as “good” people.  In reality, the bible says there is no such thing!  In original creation, we are born to the “flesh”.  This not only means our skin, but more importantly, human nature!  This is the earthly nature of a man apart from divine influence, therefore, prone to sin and opposed to God.  So God decided we needed some training wheels.  He sent Moses to the mountain and created “The Law”.  Believers of God were so excited about “The Law” they forgot God’s promise of a Savior.  Many still believe, to this day, that through their own “good” actions, they can get to heaven.   But, the bible say’s we have to be born again, to the spirit;  The disposition, or influence that fills and governs the soul of anyone.  In my mind, I know God sent his son to the cross to die for my sins.  I fully accept that I cannot get to Heaven on my own.  But my dilemma comes in when I try to live up to “The Law” and transform myself into who I think God wants me to be.   This was not God’s design, at all!  In Galatians 3:3b, Paul reminds us, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Okay, so when you say it out loud, it sounds scary!

I leave with this thought.  When my “Slim Shady” is trying to come out to play, I will remember that I am “under construction.”  If God had made himself perfect in me, I would be blogging from Heaven.   God produces good  fruit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.  If the fruit I produce is anything other than these character traits, I am commiting Galatians 5:24-25 to heart:

“For those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed their passions & desires of their sinful nature to the cross and crucified them there.  Since we are living by the spirit, let us follow the Spirits leading in every part of our lives.”